Potential Thesis Defence Questions

As I move into my final year of my PhD, the focus is now solely on the analysis of the data I have collected, collecting all my thoughts, and writing the thesis. I found this article on 40 possible thesis defence questions by Rebecca Ferguson. The questions are listed below:

1. Can you start by summarising your thesis?
2. Now, can you summarise it in one sentence?
3. What is the idea that binds your thesis together?
4. What motivated and inspired you to carry out this research?
5. What are the main issues and debates in this subject area?
6. Which of these does your research address?
7. Why is the problem you have tackled worth tackling?
8. Who has had the strongest influence in the development of your subject area in theory and practice?
9. Which are the three most important papers that relate to your thesis?
10. What published work is closest to yours? How is your work different?
11. What do you know about the history of [insert something relevant]?
12. How does your work relate to [insert something relevant]?
13. What are the most recent major developments in your area?
14. How did your research questions emerge?
15. What were the crucial research decisions you made?
16. Why did you use this research methodology? What did you gain from it?
17. What were the alternatives to this methodology?
18. What would you have gained by using another approach?
19. How did you deal with the ethical implications of your work?
20. How has your view of your research topic changed?
21. How have you evaluated your work?
22. How do you know that your findings are correct?
23. What are the strongest/weakest parts of your work?
24. What would have improved your work?
25. To what extent do your contributions generalise?
26. Who will be most interested in your work?
27. What is the relevance of your work to other researchers?
28. What is the relevance of your work to practitioners?
29. Which aspects of your work do you intend to publish – and where?
30. Summarise your key findings.
31. Which of these findings are the most interesting to you? Why?
32. How do your findings relate to literature in your field?
33. What are the contributions to knowledge of your thesis?
34. How long-term are these contributions?
35. What are the main achievements of your research?
36. What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD?
37. What advice would you give to a research student entering this area?
38. You propose future research. How would you start this?
39. What would be the difficulties?
40. And, finally… What have you done that merits a PhD?


Mobile Learning Has Stalled

Prof John Traxler is a keynote speaker at JISC’s Digifest 2016 and wrote an article about his presentation entitled What killed the mobile learning dream?. In this piece he argues that the mobile learning dream, of offering completely personalised anytime anywhere learning, has died. What has resulted instead is (a nightmare?) mobile access to VLEs used as repositories i.e. students reading notes on the bus. He argues for a rethink to take advantage of greater possibilities and opportunities in mobile learning.

Causes for the dream being stalled

#1 Early on – Small Scale

  • Expensive projects – involved giving (expensive) devices to students, but could not afford to continue to subsidise equipment for all, so not financially sustainable
  • Small projects – do not provide much information on how to scale up
  • Short term projects – do not provide much information around sustainability
  • Early adopter / enthusiast projects – do not provide much information around working with the majority of educators

#2 Now – Bring Your Own Device

Students (in most cases) now have their own devices, so learnings from previous small scale projects do not apply. Additionally, there is a wide variety of devices and they change rapidly.This ushers in a new set of questions

  • Is there a specific range of technologies they can bring?
  • What’s the nature of the support offered?
  • Have we got a network infrastructure that won’t fall over when 20,000 students turn up with gadgets?
  • What kind of staff development is needed to handle the fact that not only will the students turn up with many different devices but tomorrow they’ll have changed to even more different devices?

BYOD also means bringing their own services and connectivity. It is no longer the university network that makes the rules for access.

Issues of control and the role of teachers

This points to a larger issue of control. Students have their own hardware, software and connectivity. They now bring different habits and expectations about how and what they learn. It is not solely accessing what is provided on a VLE. So this begs the question… What is the role of the lecturer and the university? Particularly if we consider students can access content and apps from anywhere and in different formats (video, audio, social etc). Another question is how to support students with digital literacy?

Focus on opening outwards and upwards

The dream is now to open outwards and upwards. Universities ought to be:

  • Challenging our students to find, or providing our students with, the best learning materials
  • Collecting and orchestrating the best of what is out there already
  • Wanting our students to learn by discussion and interaction (not locked within a VLE)

Comment: One of the issues I often wonder about in my study is if I am asking the right questions. I think here the questions about the range of technologies students can bring, the changes in these devices and the types of support they need are all linked to my question of understanding how we can support online students who are using multiple devices for learning. So that students can take advantage of technologies to help them learn seamlessly. Is this still the right dream to have?


Traxler, J (2016). What killed the mobile learning dream? JISC. Available: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/inform-feature/what-killed-the-mobile-learning-dream-26-feb-2016

Top questions to consider when examining a PhD Thesis

This useful article by Patrick Dunleavy Top ten questions for the PhD oral exam: A checklist of ‘viva’ issues that always come up offers some advice on preparing for an oral exam. I am listing the 10 questions below as I think they are important to consider throughout the PhD journey, not just at the end:

  1. What are the most original (or value-added) parts of your thesis?
  2. Which propositions or findings would you say are distinctively your own?
  3. How do you think your work takes forward or develops the literature in this field?
  4. What are the ‘bottom line’ conclusions of your research? How innovative or valuable are they? What does your work tell us that we did not know before?
  5. Can you explain how you came to choose this topic for your doctorate? What was it that first interested you about it? How did the research focus change over time?
  6. Why have you defined the final topic in the way you did? What were some of the difficulties you encountered and how did they influence how the topic was framed? What main problems or issues did you have in deciding what was in-scope and out-of-scope?
  7. What are the core methods used in this thesis? Why did you choose this approach? In an ideal world, are there different techniques or other forms of data and evidence that you’d have liked to use?
  8. What are the main sources or kinds of evidence? Are they strong enough in terms of their quantity and quality to sustain the conclusions that you draw? Do the data or information you consider appropriately measure or relate to the theoretical concepts, or underlying social or physical phenomena, that you are interested in?
  9. How do your findings fit with or contradict the rest of the literature in this field? How do you explain the differences of findings, or estimation, or interpretation between your work and that of other authors?
  10. What are the main implications or lessons of your research for the future development of work in this specific sub-field? Are there any wider implications for other parts of the discipline? Do you have ‘next step’ or follow-on research projects in mind?